Successful rebellions require leaders. That’s why the recent talk about some House conservatives conniving to wrest the speaker’s gavel from John Boehner now appears headed nowhere—and why even Boehner’s detractors say that he will be reelected when the new Congress convenes on Thursday.
“You can’t beat somebody with nobody,” one senior House Republican said on Tuesday, referring to what has turned out to be skittishness on the part of any viable alternative candidate to step forward, from the shadows or anywhere else.
Even conservative anti-Boehner forces outside of Congress who have been pushing to get House members to pick someone else are conceding that won’t happen. They predict the Ohio Republican will win his second term as speaker on Thursday, in a vote set for shortly after noon, on the heels of this week’s fiscal-cliff drama.
Whether that is viewed by fellow House members and the public as a good or bad thing, critics note that Boehner will continue to symbolize the Republican brand as their party’s top elected official in Washington—and also as President Obama’s main political foil.
“I hesitate to say it, but this goes to some degree to cowardice.… It turns out no one else seems willing to pick up the mantle,” Ron Meyer, a spokesman for the conservative group American Majority Action, one of the groups that has been pushing for Boehner’s ouster, said on Tuesday.
Under normal circumstances, Boehner’s reelection as speaker on Thursday should be automatic.
But just two weeks ago, the refusal of dozens of Boehner’s fellow Republicans to support his fiscal-cliff “Plan B” to avert income tax rates from rising on most Americans seemed to underscore a speakership in trouble. That setback for Boehner represented just the latest incident in which he has clashed with conservatives in his own conference and right-leaning outside groups, many of whom have regarded him as too willing to compromise with the White House and Democrats on taxes and other fiscal issues.
Boehner was even prompted last month to strip four Republicans from their coveted committee seats, creating more internal tension. Outside of Congress, a Rasmussen poll in late December showed Boehner’s approval numbers at their lowest since becoming speaker in 2011, replacing Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as the least-liked member of congressional leadership among all voters surveyed—with only 55 percent of Republicans approving of his performance.
And on Wednesday, Meyers’s Virginia-based American Majority Action and other conservative groups were revving up new criticism of Boehner, for his decision Tuesday night to support and vote for the fiscal-cliff deal they demean as being “cut” by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The speaker was among just 85 House Republicans ultimately voting for that measure. By contrast, the No. 2 and No. 3 House Republicans—Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.—both voted against it, two of 151 House Republicans to do so.
Also on Wednesday, the Drudge Report was running an unscientific poll asking readers, “John Boehner for speaker of the House? Yea or Nay.” As of noon, more than 85 percent of the more than 155,000 participants had answered “nay.” And Boehner was facing a groundswell of new criticism from some Northeast House Republicans over a decision to not allow a vote on a Hurricane Sandy relief bill.
Declaring time for new leadership at the top of the House Republican Conference, American Majority Action and other groups have been urging the more than 100 House conservatives to consider blocking Boehner’s reelection. They could do so by taking advantage of a rule requiring a speaker to be elected with an “absolute majority” of House member votes. That rule means just 17 Republicans voting for anyone other than Boehner could block him from getting the required 50 percent plus one. That’s because 233 Republicans and 200 Democrats (there will be two vacancies) will comprise the makeup of the House when the 113th Congress officially opens with its quorum call on Thursday—and then moves to a vote for speaker.
Until any candidate receives the requisite majority of votes actually cast for someone (voting “present” does not count as a vote), the roll call is repeated until a speaker is elected. Such an anti-Boehner strategy would not be about handing the speaker’s gavel over to Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California. It would be about blocking Boehner from keeping the gavel—and doing so long enough, through enough ballots, so that he is embarrassed or becomes seen as too diminished to qualify as speaker.
But the problem for the anti-Boehner “forces,” says Meyer and House members, is that despite what has been chronic conservative disappointment over some of his activities, there has not emerged in the last two weeks any unified effort among even as few as 17 disgruntled House Republicans to carry out a maneuver to block him.